The Man Who Invented Drug Testing

This week we salute Manfred Donike, who was born on August 23, 1933.  In 1966, the German biochemist demonstrated that an Agilent (then Hewlett-Packard) gas chromatograph could be used to detect anabolic steroids and other prohibited substances in athletes’ urine samples.

Donike began the first full-scale testing of athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, using eight HP gas chromatographs linked to an HP computer.  His method reduced the screening process from 15 steps to three, and was considered so scientifically accurate that no outside challenges to his findings were allowed.

At the 1983 Pan American Games, Donike’s laboratory disqualified 19 athletes and caused numerous others to withdraw before they were due to be tested.  At the 1988 Summer Olympics, his testimony led to the suspension of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson.  (When Johnson’s defenders claimed that unknown parties had somehow spiked the athlete’s drink, Donike declared, “How can anyone seriously state such nonsense?”)

Donike died of a heart attack on August 21, 1995 at the age of 61.  Ironically, he was en route to the All-African Games to set up a drug testing laboratory.  “His contributions over the past 25 years have been innumerable,” said UCLA’s Dr. Don Caitlin at the time.  “He devised all the chemical methods of identifying prohibited substances.”

Donike was also an athlete, earning 14 national titles in cycling.

In 1997, HP established the Manfred Donike Award to recognize “scientists who exemplify the spirit and scientific leadership of doping control pioneer Manfred Donike, and whose contributions significantly increase fairness in sports competition.”  The award continues to be given annually by Agilent.

Today, Agilent is a leader in gas chromatography, liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry.  Ever since the 1972 Olympic Games, the company has been the major supplier of drug-testing equipment for elite sports competitions worldwide, including the World Cup and the Tour de France.  Agilent also provides drug-testing solutions to law enforcement and forensics laboratories around the world.

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